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26 April 2001

The Anti-Jay

I should have just worked from home today. I've been fighting a minor little bug, which always leaves me cranky. But I needed to go into the office for various reasons. And the morning was okay. But then my usual Thursday afternoon task rolled around. First some background.

I started working at my current employer as a grad student doing grunt work, and in fairly short order started doing political risk analysis full-time. Early on, Jay Gallagher realized I knew how to write and asked if I would help proofread his weekly newsletter before it went to print. What was I going to say but "of course," given Jay's respect in the industry and his newsletter's status as THE weekly source of exploration news (stuff like who has drilled what and their success or failure, who has bought or sold what and where, who has shot seismic, who has suffered pipeline bombings, etc). Jay put that thing out almost singlehanded, with the help of an able assistant. It was a true piece of journalism -- well-written, objective, insightful, pertinent. I grew to appreciate it as I learned more about the industry, especially when I would go to see clients on unrelated business, and always see it prominently displayed in the waiting area. It was that big a damn deal. How that man knew so much, could tie it all together, and write about rather mundane stuff (ever read the details of a successful well test?) so beautifully on a weekly deadline for so many years I'll never know. We lost Jay last December.

Since then, I've continued to proofread the thing each Thursday for three main reasons: Jay's assistant is a really really nice guy and it's been a struggle for him to get the thing out (especially as Jay was dying), I've felt some obligation to try and uphold Jay's work as well as his confidence in me, and it's still a fairly handy source of what's going on in the industry. It's been tough to keep reading it, though. Jay's assistant has lost more and more editorial control -- the "management" always knew better than Jay what to do with his newsletter, and now they have seen fit to implement their ideas, despite the fact their training is in geology, not journalism, economics, politics, or any of the other areas but upstream exploration/development/production NEWS they've decided to cover lately -- and the newsletter has deteriorated into a half-ass source of news, and an even worse source of editorializing that NEVER had a place in the old newsletter. I've done my best as a "proofer" to correct the most outrageous examples written by the person who has now replaced Jay as a writer, who can neither write worth a shit nor think worth a shit. Indeed, some of the rewrites I've done of his "work" probably saved us being sued by at least one company that would have had every right to do so had I not protested vigorously.

But today was the last straw. I was proofing the lead article (on gas prices -- something that has never been an emphasis since we are an UPSTREAM oil and gas information services firm!), which I could tell was written by the anti-Jay (I don't even know the jackass's name, but that seems appropriate). It was just full of tacky editorial comments, which didn't surprise me, since Jay's assistant had warned me the management had decided to go in a "new direction" with more editorializing. But they were the sorts of assertions that I KNEW had no supporting evidence -- soundbite editorializing that is done a lot by poor journalists wanting to sound omniscient. So I made my usual "Can you substantiate these broad -- and troubling -- editorial assertions?" comments with my lovely red pen. But then I reached the final paragraph. It jolted me.

The final paragraph discussed the fact that FL Governor Bush and President Bush had a disagreement over federal oil leases to be offered offshore Florida (not quite correct, since Governor Bush had petitioned the appropriate cabinet agency, NOT the President directly -- the sort of sloppy, imprecise reporting Jay never would have tolerated). It then suggested that President Bush was -- I kid you not -- sticking it to his brother on this issue by moving ahead with the leases, because the two have had a simmering conflict since the "embarrassing chain of events" during the election in Florida (embarrassing to whom? Jay would never have used that sort of characterization) in Florida! Never mind an energy crisis, never mind that Florida is NOT the only state to be affected, never mind that Bush indicated this would be his policy on the campaign trail, never mind that it would be political suicide to work actively against a Republican governor up for reelection and who has been under fire lately in a state that put you over the top electorally. Throw all of that out -- President Bush is trying to stick it to Jeb! Take that little brother! Next week the dumb bastards will probably be reporting that Jeb has gotten even by banning the President from DisneyWorld.

Like I said, when I read that, I bolted upright, which is quite a thing at work these days, since I didn't think there was anything there that could surprise me anymore (and since I have a handy little reminder right in front of me that says, "It's not like people are stuck on the moon" just to keep things "in perspective" at the place). My first thought was, they CANNOT run that in a publication that serves as a significant public face of the company in terms of exposure. My subsequent thoughts were, they are going to run it, nothing I say will make a difference, that Jay's assistant doesn't have the authority to strike such editorializing anymore, and that it's hopeless. At that point, I looked for our VP, hoping he might assert enough authority not to let such an embarrassing and irresponsible bit of journalism go out the door. No sign of him. So I just put a red X through the thing, took it to Jay's assistant, and told him (in a shaky voice -- I get that way sometimes): "I cannot proof this any longer for you. I've done the front page and nothing else. I won't be proofing this ever again. That last paragraph is ridiculous." I didn't even give him a chance to say anything. There was no need for discussion. I then packed up my things, and came home to work the rest of the day and tomorrow, where the Idiocy Level is significantly lower.

I'm still a little stunned by it. I don't hold Jay's assistant at fault (he's a lot like Eddie Willers -- a good sort who busts his ass, but not Dagny Taggart, and with no real power), and I fear he's probably hurt on a personal level, but I can't be a part of such nonsense. I can't just read that shit they are turning out looking only for spelling errors. I can't turn off my brain to what they are doing. And since I always did the proofing as a courtesy to Jay, I have revoked that courtesy. Out of respect to Jay. Out of respect to excellence. Out of respect to myself.

I sent an email to my most immediate superiors in my branch of the company (what is even better is that this newsletter is put out by the information services side of the company, which specializes in data and raw reporting yet wants the newsletter to be more opinionated and analytical, while my side of the company is the consulting group that does all of the analytical work! How's that for fucked up?! Par for the course at the place), since they ought to be concerned that one part of the company is representing the company as holding all sorts of outlandish views on politics and economics that reflect badly on those of us who actually do have expertise those areas. I'm sure they will be concerned. I'm also fairly certain that the concerns they raise will fall on deaf ears. Surely people who do analytical consulting don't know their own areas better than a bunch of geologists, right?!

Right. And Jeb Bush is going to ban the President from drilling for oil at Disneyworld. The newsletter will be reporting that next week. You watch!

[Posted @ 08:26 PM CST]

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